HIGH SPRINGS – Incumbent Mayor Sue Weller and challenger Bobby Summers will both be vying for High Springs City Commission seat 3 at the Nov. 5, 2013 election.
Summers, 74, says he has been a High Springs resident all his life. “Our family has been part of High Springs since before 1900,” he said in a recent interview. “I am running as a native. I have had experience. My father was the last city judge High Springs had. My grandfather was a school board trustee. I have been a commissioner and mayor here and a county commissioner. It [public service] runs in the family.”
By way of explaining why he chose to run at this time, Summers said, “High Springs is in turmoil…or has been. We need to do something about that. We need to get some honesty and integrity on the commission,” he said.
“As a county commissioner, I was able to lower the millage rate. As a city commissioner, we were able to keep the millage rate at the same level. I am definitely not in favor of increasing the millage,” he said. “Everybody is having tough times right now and we need to build our reserves back up. We’ve got a sewer system that is way too expensive. We can’t keep pumping money into it. We have to cut back and wait for growth to catch up,” he said.
“I am running as myself, but not against Mayor Weller,” he commented. “I have no bone to pick with her.” “She is from Miami and has some South Florida ideas. I don’t think High Springs is quite ready for her,” he said.
“We need to stimulate economic development in High Springs, which will broaden our tax base. Ms. Weller said she would do that when she ran. So far, she has not,” he said.
Summers is owner of Summers Realty, Inc., but says he is a tree farmer now. “I have been in the farm supply business, I have had a trucking business and served in the U.S. Navy,” he said. “I understand what business owners have to face and increasing the millage rate is not what we should be doing now.”
Weller, 62, has been a resident of High Springs since 2004. She is currently in her first three-year term as commissioner and was elected to serve as mayor for the current fiscal year. She formally announced her candidacy during a city commission meeting in April.
The city went through a difficult time in 2012, Weller said. “I am running again to help the city move forward. This last seven months, we have turned a corner. We have had to set the groundwork by working on our image. Before we could expect economic development, we had to start working together as a team and change our image of constant bickering, undoing and redoing items which we had already voted on,” she said.
“I recently looked at our voting record for the past seven months on substantive issues that have come before us as a commission. I was impressed to see that 88 percent of our votes have been unanimous on those substantive issues. The realization that the commission is working together, as I had hoped we would when I joined the commission, puts the City of High Springs on track to start enticing businesses and people into our town instead of reading about bickering and infighting in our city government,” she said.
“The city, through funds from the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) and a matching $500 grant from Visit Gainesville, has begun the economic development process with a full page advertisement on the beauty and diversity of our city in the July/August 2013 issue of Florida Travel + Lifestyle Magazine. High Springs was also featured in a two-page article in U.S. Airways Magazine on the beauty and natural wonders of High Springs. We now have a plan of action to begin to attract people to visit High Springs and see what a wonderful place it is,” she said. “I want to continue to help High Springs move in this positive direction.”
When asked about the millage rate, the rate of taxation on property values, Weller explained, “Our city manager has just presented a budget for the upcoming year that works within our current millage rate of 6.15 mills, and also includes some of the items the commission asked him to provide for such as a recreation department. It appears there is no need to raise the millage rate, which is why I voted not to do so at the July 25, 2013, commission meeting.
“No one wants to raise taxes or fees. We all live here too. To the extent to which we can operate within our current fees and taxes, we should do so and look for ways to save the city money at the same time,” said Weller.
“However, it costs money to meet the desires of our citizens. An integral part of our duties as representatives of our citizens is to look for ways in which we can obtain the money to best meet their needs and services. There are many ways to do that. Increasing the millage rate is only one way. Our responsibility as elected officials is to look at all of the ways we can meet our citizens’ needs and choose the best method for all concerned.”
Weller has served on the city commission and as mayor of High Springs. As such, she also serves on the CRA. Locally she has also served on the High Springs Planning and Historic Board and on the Task Force for Economic Development.
Previously, she worked for the City of Miami for 24 years in labor relations, the last 12 of those years as the Labor Relations Officer. She served as the city’s representative on both of the city’s employee pension boards as a management representative. She has been a member of the Florida Public Employer Labor Relations Association since 1978 and is past president. She served as Executive Director for eight years following her retirement from the City of Miami and is also the past president of the National Florida Public Employer Labor Relations Association.
Asked why she moved to High Springs, she said both she and her husband wanted to get away from the big city.
“We had certain requirements for a place to live. High Springs fit that bill perfectly,” she said. “We love it here and can’t imagine living anywhere else.”
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